“Are we ready for Friday?” Coach Mike Kuhlmann asks Columbia High School football players during a practice prior to the team’s season opener against Mascoutah.
“Yeah!” the players answer.
“Do you think we’re gonna win?” Kuhlmann asks.
“Yes sir!” the players answer again.
“Yes we are!” Kuhlmann says with emphasis.
Kuhlmann, 59, got his first taste of coaching with the Rampage youth football squad of the Waterloo Sports Association in 2009.
The man who helped “Coach Mike” fulfill that dream – former Rampage coach Craig Laskowski –connected with him again this fall to serve as an honorary assistant coach with the CHS football squad.
Laskowski is a quarterbacks coach for the Eagles who also works as director of quality and training at Human Support Services.
“Part of what we do in our Building Futures program at HSS is help our people with intellectual and developmental disabilities recognize their strengths and abilities, and then pursue their goals and dreams within the community,” Laskowski said.
Laskowski said he reached out to Columbia head football coach Scott Horner about the idea to have Kuhlmann, who has an intellectual disability, join the Eagles coaching staff this season.
Horner approved without hesitation.
“Having Coach Mike around our program is great for him and great for our players,” Horner said. “He provides motivation to our guys, and our guys really appreciate his presence. Mike just loves football and I am humbled to be asked to give him the opportunity to live out a lifelong dream.”
Kuhlmann was welcomed into the Columbia football family with open arms and he has served as an inspiration for the Eagles, who are 2-0.
“He high-fives the players, congratulates them,” Laskowski said. “He’s been passionate about wanting to coach. That passion, that love to be on the football field, has never left him.”
With an official CHS coach’s jacket, Kuhlmann has been helping call plays, starting huddles and inspiring the team.
“When Mike looks at the players, he doesn’t see them for their abilities on the field – he sees them for who they are as people,” Laskowski said. “He talks about what good kids they are.”
Kuhlmann thanked the players and coaches for letting him be a coach again, and even made a poster that says “Let’s Go Eagles” that he presented to the team following Friday’s 35-10 win over rival Waterloo.
“They’re going to hang that up in the locker room for the rest of the season,” Laskowski said. “He wants to inspire those kids.”